Reflections on AIDS 2010 Cheryl Overs

27/08/2010 at 07:09 Leave a comment

This International AIDS Conference was the culmination of months of work as a Community Programming Committee (CPC) member and co-chair of the Global Village. It was also the first time in several years that I have seen all the global and regional sex workers rights activists. In that time the Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) and other networks have formalised and gathered funding and rights awareness has spread to more countries.  So it was wonderful to see old friends and to meet the wonderful new activists from countries as diverse as Guyana, Kenya, USA, South Africa, UK, China and Uganda. It was great to catch up with people who have gone from being peer educators to managing programmes and public advocacy, to see the materials sex workers are producing and to see the NSWP itself thriving under the leadership of my old friend Ruth Morgan Thomas (three months older than me).

 I am sure that for many people the Red Umbrellas would be the most potent symbol of the struggle for human rights they remember from the conference.  

Sex Workers’ message in Vienna :  Only Rights can Stop the Wrongs

Sex workers had the largest and most diverse delegation of sex workers since we began attending in 1988. The Network of Sex Work Projects held a meeting to prepare for the conference. It was attended by over 100 sex workers and our allies.  We have several booths and a big networking zone, lots of panels and presentation. We have produced a Smart Guide and posters that set out sex workers’ priorities in each region.

There are high expectations among sex workers for this conference.  Sex workers have always argued for decriminalisation of sex work but now some of the key institutions are backing this. Joseph Amon, Human Rights Watch director, called on governments of more than 160 countries to repeal laws criminalising sex work saying, “Only by protecting the human rights of marginalized and vulnerable populations can we succeed in ending HIV transmission and ensuring universal access to care.” We are expecting many more such calls throughout this conference.

The Red Umbrella is our symbol of our demands for human rights which are not limited to the removal of anti sex work laws but extending to our rights to freedom of movement, to protection from violence and to the right to  earn a living from sex work.                       NSWP Vienna July 19 2010

Rights Here Right Now

The conference theme was Rights Here Right Now which was well timed for first conference since the Bush administration which human rights were subjugated to ideological responses to HIV. I was surprised not hear anyone mention the history of the modern global notion of human rights there so close to its birthplace after the Second World War.  I think this history is important to remind us what an ambitious and young project it is to draw the globe’s various ethical and philosophical systems into this idea of a universal inalienable human rights that are codified in international law and conventions.

There were great moments at AIDS 2010 such as Meena Seshu’s Jonathan Mann Lecture. Meena spoke about human rights violations and stigma illustrating her points with short films that made the audience both laugh and cry. As well as highlighting injustices Meena illustrated the strength and resourcefulness of the communities she works with in Sangli, India and made a powerful case for recognising that human rights are key to HIV prevention and care. Peninah, John, Grace, Galila and Maclean from Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia respectively all spoke about the issues and challenges they face in their countries, each echoing the demands about rights as the tool for ending injustice and improving health. Sex workers from Latin America, Asia and the Pacific participated fully thanks to good preparation, teamwork and creative use of visual and interactive media. 

Nevertheless the conference experience is frustrating and there is so much I missed. I am going to mention the implications of the Caprisa microbicide trial on sex workers but after making time to see the study presented I was unable to attends the session on implications for communities. So as I begin to write I am aware that I can only share a picture of my personal conference.  The frustrations associated with this particular conference began in 2008 for me when the planning process began and I will also talk about that.

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Entry filed under: research.

Are things getting better? Is the glass half full ? Tenofovir as a Microbicide Gel: Where are sex workers in the CAPRISA calculations ?

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